Trust South Korea to turn a film about elderly sex workers into a black comedy. The Bacchus Lady takes its inspiration from older woman who sell ‘Bacchus’ soft drink – and their bodies – on the streets. In the hands of an American filmmaker, this would probably make for poignant social realism, but director E J-yong manages to turn the material towards black comedy and, ultimately, a reflection upon how we choose to greet our final days.
J-yong takes a distinctly Korean approach to the subject matter, twisting a film that opens with an STD diagnosis and surprise stabbing into quirky comedy. Bacchus lady So-young (Yeo-jeong Yoon) is left burdened an inconvenient illness and an abandoned infant (whose mother inflicted said stabbing on her deadbeat baby daddy doctor), but Yoon’s deadbeat demeanour keeps the grim material humming along with an amusing lightness.
The third act takes a turn for true darkness, with So-young living up to the Korean title of the film – “Killer Lady” – by inadvertently turning her trade from prostitution to euthanasia for an enfeebled friend. The happy endings she doled out earlier in the piece shift towards a deeply depressing conclusion, but that’s par for the course with Korean cinema.